Can a bad shine ruin your shoes?
June 22, 2005 5:24 PM   Subscribe

How does shoe polish work, and can a bad shine ruin your shoes?

I have some very nice new shoes that are a sort of nuanced walnut color. They are starting to get scuffed, and I want to get them shined. But simply going to some shoeshine stand and letting them apply the 'brown' polish seems unjust. I doubt that the polish will be the same color as the shoe. Surely this is a problem that has come up and been solved two hundered years ago, but I don't know what the answer is. Do I go to an expensive shoeshine place (are there expensive shoeshine places)? Is the polish actually a mostly transparent substance that will ultimately only bring out the natural color of the shoe anyway? Or is shoe polish essentially paint?
posted by bingo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total)
More like stain than paint.
Odds are it'll change the color of the shoe (even the clear polish).
But if you put it on lightly, it'll enhance the color of the shoe rather than obliterating it.
Good shoeshine places in my experience (in cities anyway) are usually found outside of Federal buildings (courthouses and the like) and strangely, train stations.

Like good barbershops, the older the gentleman running the chair the better.
posted by madajb at 5:32 PM on June 22, 2005

...and don't forget old stately hotels. They usually have a shoe shiner there too

I've heard stories of shoes being ruined by the wrong type of polish. When I travelled there often on business, many years ago, Mexico City had aggressive roving shoeshiners with paste that is more than glue. The rogue shoeshiners' MO was: they start shining your shoes before even asking for permission then follow you around demanding payment, yelling at you for 'stealing' from them. A few of my (male) fellow business travellers fell for that scam. These rogue 'shiners didn't approach women as often.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:43 PM on June 22, 2005

By the way, I'm in NYC, if anyone wants to recommend a specific place or shiner.
posted by bingo at 5:51 PM on June 22, 2005

Shoe polish isn't a paint or a stain. It's coloured wax, like a crayon or candle. The polishing action melts the wax and spreads it to (if you're good) a glassy finish. So you can always get rid of the polish by pouring hot water over the shoes. I've done this several times with my parade boots.

Kiwi makes a clear gloss, but I'm sure it will change the colour of your shoes somewhat. That's ok. Things change. Shoes grow old.

I can't find a link, but while googling for that polish, I came across This scary note from the EPA. How many times have I licked the Kiwi cloth to keep it damp. I'm going to die a bluish earlobed death.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:52 PM on June 22, 2005

Shoe polish is wax. If the shoes are not scuffed to the point of wearing off the color, you should be able to maintain the color by applying a clear floor wax or furniture wax. Note that I'm not talking about those acrylic liquids that you pour on linoleum and let dry. It's wax you want.

When I was in the service many years ago, the drill sergeants insisted that using acrylic floor polish would ruin the leather of our boots, so we had to do the traditional spit-shine. Floor polish did look good, though.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:56 PM on June 22, 2005

...if a polish is just wax, then what is a scuff? Is it minor damage to the leather, or is it a pieceo f something else that got rubbed off on the leather? And how does making the shoe more shiny hide the scuff?
posted by bingo at 6:05 PM on June 22, 2005

As popular ethics says, it's colored wax. Scuffing scrapes off some of the color, and if it's severe enough, you see the bare leather. It can be damage to the leather; if you scuff one place enough, you'll wear a hole in the shoe. Polish does help prevent that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:19 PM on June 22, 2005

Shinyness and smoothness are correlated. The wax fills all the little crevices in the leather, and the big crevises from scuffs.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2005

Long standing, very well established, high volume shoe shiners at Grand Central Station- a whole set of them near the Metro North Tracks at the west end. They'll almost certainly do a good job, and during the slow period outside of rush hour, almost certainly be able to talk you through the nuances of a good shine better than any MeFi-ite.
posted by bemis at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2005

snoseal. non-colored and good for most kinds of leather (be careful with suedes etc.)

(also, they claim it has no odor but in fact it has a nice beeswaxy smell)
posted by dorian at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2005

From Popular Ethics' EPA link:

"Never wear shoes that are not absolutely dry if you are drinking and never drink alcoholic beverages while polishing shoes."

Man, who wants to polish shoes without a little booze to make it more fun? I mean, seriously.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 7:21 PM on June 22, 2005

My only tip: If you have shoes that are reddish-brown, you should use the cordoban color shoe polish rather than brown.
posted by smackfu at 8:13 PM on June 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

If wearing your shoes where you can expect hazards (road salt, fire/ash), you can apply a thick coat of polish (wax) and leave it on without buffing. Buff like crazy after the hazard is past. This is a trick learned in Navy boot camp. It also produces a very good shine.

Consider applying the polish at home, then stopping by someplace with an electric shoe buffer. excellent results obtain.
posted by Goofyy at 10:47 PM on June 22, 2005

A great backgrounder (not truly specific to combat boots): Spit Shine Your Combat Boots
posted by jperkins at 5:06 AM on June 23, 2005

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